Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hong Kong For Lunar New Year!

So I just returned from Hong Kong and all the festivities for Lunar (Chinese) New Year there. I'll go into details for individual things later, but before I go to bed, I just wanted to give an overview of the things I did and saw.

We flew out of Seoul at 10:30am Saturday morning, in the middle of the biggest snow storm I've seen here. Granted, we haven't got much snow at all this year. I think there may have been an inch on the ground. Nothing an airport can't deal with. But, we did have to sit on the runway for almost an hour for de-icing. We arrived in Hong Kong late, but we got through customs quickly and found our airport bus to our hotel quickly.

We stayed in Kowloon, near Tsim Sha Tsui metro station, on Nathan Road. Because my friends and I reserved our hotels at different times, we wound up staying in two separate guesthouses, but fortunately they were across the street from one another. This area has many guest houses that sport the cheapest prices in the city. Unfortunately, in Hong Kong, you really do get what you pay for. Here in Korea, you can pay 20,000 won and get a decent love motel for the night, but in Hong Kong, you can pay the equivalent of $20 USD and get a closet sized bathroom that may or may not have a drain for the shower. Our guesthouse fortunately had a drain on the floor, so while we stood over the toilet to shower, the water did go away. My friend's place evidently didn't even have a drain. They had to wash their hair over the sink. Not really sure how they washed their bodies... The beds were well used foam mattresses that sort of sank towards the side. Pillows were about the same quality. But, I haven't found any lice yet, and I didn't see any roaches, so besides a little discomfort (not that much really, I can sleep just about anywhere, as long as I can lay down and I have a blanket) it was a good deal. I certainly couldn't have afforded a nice hotel for 3 nights.

The two most famous guesthouse places in Kowloon are Mirador Mansion, where I stayed and Chungking Mansion which was a block away. These aren't really mansions by any definition that I know of, they are just some generic, rundown, city buildings. There are plenty of other places too around where we were, like Golden Crown Plaza where my friends stayed. I have a feeling they are all similar or worse quality. These places are often the homes of illegal immigrants moving to Hong Kong. We saw many Africans and Middle Eastern people around here. The Middle Eastern people were particularly annoying though, because they were constantly trying to sell either tailoring or watches, and they would pester you on the street trying to get you to follow them to buy their goods. Though, in comparison to the street vendors in Vietnam, I guess they weren't so bad.

Day 1 we met up after we settled in our rooms, and set out to wonder around. We went to Kowloon park, then found our way to the Avenue of Stars and watched the light show. More on that later. We walked around some more, then headed home, because we were exhausted from waking up so early for our flight.

Day 2 we ate DIM SUM! for breakfast, then took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island. We took the tram up to the Peak, ate and walked around a bit up there. Came back down and walked around, explored the elevated sidewalks and the longest covered escalator in the world, went around SoHo, found a microbrewery, remembered why I didn't like beer when I was younger, went home, changed, went back to SoHo to go out, had fun for a while, but in the end were rather disappointed by $7 beers and a lack of dancing (there was a wine bar that was playing salsa and Latin beats, but no one shared my enthusiasm for checking that place out...). We then headed back to Kowloon (the subways were open all night that night) then went to McDonald's for a midnight snack before heading home.

Day 3 we searched for a new dim sum restaurant, but everything seemed to be closed, so we settled for a classic hong kong style diner. Ate some yummy food headed to the cable car. The cable car took us to a giant Buddha and a giant tourist trap, but it was still fun. We headed back to our hotel, and met up at 7:00 for the parade. We just happened to be right in front of one of the three performance areas along the parade route, and we were entertained by an MC until the parade started at 8:00. The parade was great and we headed back to our hotels afterwards.

Day 4 we met at 11:00 and went back to the first dim sum restaurant that we ate at to eat again, since we knew where it was. We didn't have time to waste, and we needed some barbecue steamed pork buns stat. We then took the ferry over to Wai Chai to see the golden flower statue that was given as a gift to the city by the People's Republic of China when they were handed back the city from the British. We walked along the harbor, took a doubledecker tram (like a trolley) and then headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags and hop back on the airport bus. Everything else went as it should, and I was back in my room in Seoul by 11:00 pm. And now I'm here typing.

My overall view of Hong Kong? It's an amazing city. It sort of felt like what New York City with slightly more Chinese writing. It was a bit like Montreal in that the city is completely bilingual. We only found one person the whole time we were there that didn't speak English. It has the most beautiful cityscape I've ever seen. It was absolutely mesmerizing. Especially at night.

It was expensive in some respects. Eating prices were similar to home, but still cheaper, because there is no tipping (but a service charge is always added to the bill). Drinking was incredibly expensive, and supposedly we were in the cheaper part of town for that. I found the transportation to be quite reasonably priced. Fares are charged by distance, so if you're only going a few stops, you pay less than a US dollar, and if you go far, you might pay around $2 USD. Trams and buses were very inexpensive.

I found shopping to be expensive, but it's hard to judge, because the city is inundated with upscale shopping areas (think Coach, Burbury, Club Monaco, Dior, Yves Saint Laurant, etc etc etc.. ones I have never even heard of because they are so ridiculously far out of my price range.) So, for all I know, they could be cheaper than at home, but I would never spent $100 USD on a shirt at home, so why would I start in Hong Kong? I was pricing cameras too. I found one in Mong-kok for about $100 USD higher than the average price in the US, then I found one by Tsim Sha Tsui for about $100 USD less than the US price. I was too confused, I decided just to wait til I got back to Seoul.

My goals for HK posts:
Avenue of Stars/ light show
Chinese New Year Parade
Dim Sum
Random City Sights
Cable Car/ Big Buddha
The Peak

1 comment:

  1. WOW. What kind of things did they serve at the Mickey D's? Given my current line of work, I'd like to know.

    i can't wait to see the upcoming posts. I've always wanted to go to China given my distant heritage.